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Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill does zilch to help women of color

Rebecca Bracken is a news and views writer.






Want to honor women of color? Here are a few ideas less symbolic than a chick on a $20 bill

Women On $20s announced this week that its voters had selected Harriet Tubman as the woman it will encourage President Obama to swap in for Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

Now this is the sort of thing that should totally give a hard-core, down-for-the-struggle feminist like me the major feels. But instead it felt — if you'll excuse the pun — cheap.

Since women earn only 74 cents on the dollar, maybe they should change the $20 bill to a $14.80 bill, I thought. There's a symbol that might actually get people's attention. Want to do something for women? Pay us. Help us get paid maternity leave. Put laws in place that protect our rights.

Anything less is lip service. You can put a uterine cross section diagram on the $100 bill, but it doesn't change a damn thing if women can't control their own lady parts.

Then I read Kirsten West Savali’s powerful essay from The Root on the topic. She explains how using Harriet Tubman did nothing more than further co-opt her image to make white liberals feel better about themselves, while the real issues of women of color go ignored.

She calls it "hush money." And damn if she isn't right.

I'm not going to try and cop her words; just go read it for yourself. But here's the bottom line: It's gonna take a hell of a lot more than an empty, symbolic gesture like this to address the inequality women of color deal with every single day. Not in some bygone era. Today. Now.

With inspiration from Savali, here are a few meaningful things we could do for women of color that have nothing to do with a picture on a $20 bill.

1. Enforce equality in school discipline

We're criminalizing our black and Latina girls starting in school. Black girls are 53 percent more likely to get suspended from school.

2. Stop over-policing, incarcerating women of color

As they age into the adult population, women of color are disproportionately policed and incarcerated. African-American women are three times more likely to be incarcerated than white women are. Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely to get locked up than white women are.

3. Pass equal pay legislation

Hispanic and Latina women earn 54 cents for every dollar a man earns — 20 cents less than white women, on average. African-American women earn about 64 cents for every dollar a white man earns, 10 cents less than white women. Pay equality legislation would help women of color most.

4. Raise the minimum wage

More black women participate in the workforce than any other demographic, yet they're most likely to be poor. Poverty rates among black women are double that of white women. Half of single-mother households headed by black women are poor. Raising the minimum wage to $15 would lift millions of women of color — and their families — out of poverty.

5. Support Medicaid expansion in every state

Conservative states that rejected the "ObamaCare" money provided to expand Medicaid health care coverage to more of its citizens are disproportionately penalizing women of color. Many of theses states are in the Deep South — Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi — and not coincidentally have the lowest rates of black women and women of color with health insurance.

6. Support federally mandated paid maternity leave

Women of color are most likely to lose wages when they have a baby. In fact, the puny Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees only 12 weeks of unpaid leave, doesn't even apply to domestic workers, a disproportionate number of which are — you guessed it — women of color.

7. Protect reproductive rights

The fight for reproductive rights has deep roots in the civil rights movement, and many women of color have been at the forefront of expanding and protecting women's control of their own bodies. Women of color are five times more likely to terminate a pregnancy than their white sisters are. And at the same time, infant mortality rates in the U.S. are skyrocketing. African-American women are between three and four times more likely to die from a complication related to pregnancy.

More on expanding women's rights

#HowToSpotAFeminist tweets show people still don't understand feminism
The Mamafesto: Where motherhood and feminism collide
Are men behind the #WomenAgainstFeminism blog?

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